Our third morning in Chicago once again dawned far too early, but we rose with hope of a delicious breakfast, beyond the hard-boiled egg and cereal selection from the morning before, and another beautiful day game at the Friendly Confines.
During our walk through Lakeview the night prior we had seen a sign for the Ann Sather restaurant, and being a worthy disciple of the Food Network, I recognized the name as one that was often mentioned on the “Best Of” shows, notable for their cinnamon rolls. That connection was certainly enough to draw us in and it lived up to our lofty expectations.
The cinnamon rolls were offered as “sides,” so Lauren and I each ordered them as a part of our individual breakfast platters, and they were overwhelming to say the least. Each side order contained 2 very large rolls–and those came in addition to the rest of our meals. They were soft and gooey and delicious and may or may not have lured us in pretty much every morning for the rest of our trip. I have no regrets, and we were smart enough to get one order to share for the duration.
In addition, I enjoyed my very first eggs Benedict and thoroughly enjoyed that as well. It was a LOT of food, but the combination of muffin, hollandaise, poached egg and slab of country ham had me savoring the meal well beyond the small capacity of my stomach, but the mild discomfort was well worth it.
We finished our breakfast in good time and were at Wrigley Field well in advance of first pitch. While we were relaxing in our seats, Mike Olt, my newest favorite Cub was making his way over to the wall, near our seats. I tried to scamper down to have him sign a baseball for me, but the usher nearest us was having none of it.
I am not one to give up when goals are well within reach, so I moved to the next section over, pleaded my case with the elderly usher there, promised that I was just going to try for an autograph and after either victory or success would retreat back to my seat and not darken her section again.
She gave in to my request and I ran down as Mike was very friendly and signed my baseball. He was generous and the few of us who attempted getting his autograph were well rewarded.
I was a good person and dutifully returned to my seat with my treasure. I only wound up with one autograph on the trip, but it was one that I was hoping to get, and not counting the huge names like Anthony Rizzo or Starlin Castro, probably my most coveted. I think if Olt can up his batting average a bit he will be in strong contention for the National League Rookie of the Year.
Sadly, the autograph was the only win that I would register for the day. Edwin Jackson was on the mound for the Cubs and sadly, it was bad Edwin who showed up for the game. He allowed a run to the Diamondbacks in the top of the 1st and while the Cubs answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, the DBacks were in control for the rest of the game, only allowing a home run to Rizzo in the bottom of the 8th and taking the series win.
All was not lost, however, as Lauren’s new favorite player, Darwin Barney got an at-bat as a pinch hitter and later stayed in the game as a defensive replacement, so she was relatively happy to get to see him.
We took the opportunity of the Cub slaughter to explore the various amenities of Wrigley Field. While the stadium is showing it’s 100 years, it does so in a classic manner. It didn’t seem weathered or dingy; it was more along the lines of a well-loved cathedral. I can honestly say that I enjoyed every minute that I spent in the quintessential ballpark.
I grew up watching Wrigley Field on WGN and dreaming of actually visiting and to actually have done so was one of the high points in my life. It isn’t the flashiest ballpark with the most modern touches, but it is the benchmark to which the neo-retro fields aspire. Most of the designers cite Wrigley as a strong influence and knowingly include homages to the grand dame within their designs.
I say this all with a certain bias as a Cubs fan, but I feel that Wrigley is the most beautiful park I have ever, and will ever see. The charm is with the simplicity and classic nature that draws you in with a beautiful landscape and the nature of the game itself.
That being said, in a few years once there is a high-quality product on the field, the draw to Wrigley and the Cubs will be almost immeasurable. I can guarantee that by 2016, Wrigley Field will be one of, if not THE hardest tickets to get in all of baseball.
One of the new additions to Wrigley Field and the Cubs was Clark the Cub, the new mascot. There was a lot of concern about Clark after his unveiling, but he is quite innocuous, greeting young fans before the game begins, and spending the majority of the game in his “Cub”house, on one of the concourses, posing for photos. He isn’t climbing around on the roof of the dugout or impeding the game, or it’s integrity in any way. Especially after seeing him in action, and maybe getting a photo, I have absolutely no concern with his addition in the slightest.
Following Gary “The Sarge” Matthews singing the 7th inning stretch, and watching Jose Veras continue his dramatic downward trend to lead the Cubs to a loss, Lauren and I crossed Addison and visited Wrigleyville Sports, a Cubs superstore that has gotten quite a bit of my money online, and we grabbed our “Wrigley 100” merchandise to commemorate our visit and gave them quite a bit MORE of my money and we headed back to the hotel.
Lauren was starting to not feel well and so we ended up ordering some food to be delivered to the room and had a nice relaxing evening staying in. Since the Cubs were on their way to Milwaukee, we were going to spend the next day exploring downtown Chicago, since the only other time that we had visited, it was snowing and the temperatures were near freezing, which tends to impact the ability to explore and spend any time outdoors.
I will briefly touch on our adventures in the next entry, but as there are only a few details that are remotely baseball-related, I will stick to those small occurrences!
As always, pictures can be found here.
Today was going to be an early start for us, not only because the game started at 1:20 and not only because we were trying to get to Wrigley as soon as it opened, in order to get our limited edition giveaway jerseys and birthday cupcakes, but because our time was 2 hours earlier than Chicago time. So much for sleeping in on vacation.
It was worth it for us, though. Not only would it be a beautiful, albeit frigid, day at the Friendly Confines, but today was to be the day that the Cubs were officially celebrating the 100th birthday of Weeghman Park/Cub Park/Wrigley Field, making it the 2nd oldest ballpark in the MLB, second only to Boston’s Fenway Park.
We decided to partake in the hotel’s free continental breakfast, which, for the most part, consisted of hard boiled eggs and min boxes of cereal, in order to get something in our bellies before hitting the ballpark. Given it’s convenient location and low price point, it seemed like most of the guests of the hotel were there for the big game, with Cubs jerseys abounding in the tiny dining room. The meager offerings and crowded room made this the one and only time that we partook of the breakfast on-site.
We made our way the half mile to Wrigley and got there approximately an hour before the gates were to open. We were not the first ones there. Not by a long shot. The crowds filled the sidewalks around Wrigley, much to the chagrin of the local Chicago cops, who kept trying to move the lines our of the public walking areas, with limited success. This was particularly frustrating to Lauren and I, as our jobs require a great deal of crowd control, and we felt like we could have handled the daunting task, probably with much less effort than was being exhorted by the Fuzz.
The atmosphere was festive around the park, however and despite, the initial rush of the gates at opening, people were fairly courteous and I didn’t see anyone get trampled. Jerseys and cupcakes in hand, we found our way to the seats to relax and take obscene amounts of photos before the game and festivities were to begin.
In case it isn’t blatantly obvious, I am a photography enthusiast and enjoy taking my camera to baseball games, in hopes of getting that perfect shot, or at least documenting my adventures.and, of course, I had my camera at the game. Since I was documenting the jerseys, the cupcakes and some of the more close-up details of the pre-game, I didn’t have my telephoto lens on my camera and in one of the more generous acts that I have witnessed, the older gentleman who was sharing our row offered to let me borrow his long lens to take some shots on my camera. It was a very sweet act, and once I had assured him that I was covered, he had me take some photos of him and his wife in the seats, in exchange for taking some of Lauren and me. It was a gesture that was truly appreciated.
Before we knew it, it was time for the pre-game celebration to begin, which kicked off with the Northwestern marching band taking the field and performing, as would have been done at the original opening, as well as an introduction of representatives of the very few owners that the Cubs had endured in the 100 years of the ballpark, as well as Commissioner Bud Selig (who, I will note was soundly booed…at least by me) and the first pitch was thrown out by Sue Quigg, the great grandniece of Charles Weeghman, who built what we know as Wrigley Field.
Following the first pitch was a parade of Wrigley Field dignitaries to take the field. The lineup began with former Chicago Bears, Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus, in memory of the Bears residence at Wrigley Field through the 1970 season. Next out, representing the Cubs were second baseman, Glenn Beckert (a personal favorite of mine) and pitcher, Milt Pappas. They were followed by catcher, Randy Hundley, outfielder, Gary “Sarge” Matthews and reliever, Lee Smith.
The next representative were the most heartbreaking for me, as 2 of Ron Santo’s grandchildren emerged from the dugout wearing #10 jerseys and took their grandfather’s place standing at 3rd base. Ron is one of my all-time favorite Cubs and human beings, for all that he did to support type-1 diabetes research and the kindness with which he once treated a geeky 11-year old kid at a Cubs Convention upon learning that the kid was a diabetic as well. I’d be lying if I were to say that the tears were’t starting to stream at this point.
Next out was fan favorite, Ryan Dempster and then the Hall of Famers started to make their appearances. Andre Dawson came out in his #8 to thunderous applause and was followed immediately by Ferguson Jenkins. Billy Williams was next and last, but certainly not least, was Mr.Cub, the embodiment of Wrigley Field and the eternal optimism of Cub fans, Ernie Banks, as the ballpark absolutely exploded. The men held their positions for a few minutes for photos and shots from the TV crews as the National Anthem played and then exited through the dugout. It was a great tribute, despite missing a few names who should have been there. Pre-game literature stated that Kerry Wood was going to be in attendance and despite commitments to other teams, I would have loved to see my favorite Cub, Ryne Sandberg and newest Hall of Famer, Greg Maddux at the ceremony, as well.
Another glaring omission. and one that has been debated to death on the internet, was slugger Sammy Sosa. Sammy has been MIA from any Cub event since his disastrous departure at the end of the 2004 season. If baseball has accepted back both Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire into coaching and instructional roles, there is certainly room for Sammy to come back for appearances at Wrigley Field and the annual Cubs Convention. It’s been over a decade and most of the wounds have healed.
For this historic game, the Cubs were wearing Chicago Federals jerseys and the Arizona Diamondbacks were wearing the uniforms of the Kansas City Packers, the ChiFeds first opponents. The jerseys looked great and even the PA announcements referred to the teams as the Federals and the Packers. It was a small, but nice, detail to add to the festivities.
As the game was about to begin, we grabbed an Italian beef sandwich, the specialty cocktail a “1910s Weeghman Park Old-Fashioned” and our birthday cupcakes and settled in for what was sure to be a solid Cubs victory. Sidenote: the cupcakes were from a local grocery store called Jewel-Osco and they were delicious enough for us to actually find a Jewel-Osco the following day and purchase more.
The game started well enough, with Jeff Samardzija once again pitching brilliantly, and the Cubs offense scoring 5 runs, which would normally be enough to seal the win, especially given that Samardzija only gave up 2 runs over 7.1 innings, but this was a Cubs celebration, and somehow, happily ever after, always seems to elude them. After Hector Rondon came in to finish the 7th with nary a mark on his record, Dick Butkus, Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and Dutchie Caray, the widow of Harry, sang the 7th inning stretch, and the wheels started to come off.
Pedro Strop, who is normally a very consistent deliver managed to give up a total of 4 runs, including 3 that were unearned and James Russell gave up 1, to blow the save, there was a certain feeling in the ballpark air. A feeling of dread. Our fairy tale ending, of the Cubs winning on the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field was not to be had.
I try to be the eternal Cubs optimist and never give up, but as this game spun out of control I was reminded of the old joke:
“An optimist says the glass is half full. A pessimist says it’s half empty. A Cubs fan looks at the glass and wonders when it’s going to tip over.” The 8th inning. The glass tipped over at the 100th anniversary game in the 8th inning. Given all of the hype and excitement over the festivities and celebration, this was basically the most Cub-like thing that the team could have done in memoria.
The wind was out of our sails as we joined the multitude trudging out of the ballpark and found our way back to the hotel. We were optimistic, though. The Cubs and DBacks (no longer Packers and ChiFeds) had another glorious day game the following afternoon and we had very good seats. What can I say, I’m ever the foolish optimist.
After we rested at the hotel for a bit we found a local Scottish pub, the Duke of Perth, about a mile from our lodgings in the beautiful Lakeview neighborhood and enjoyed some of the most delicious pub food that we had ever tasted. We, then settled in to our room to warm our frigid little bodies and get ready for the adventures of the following day.
Once again, the full collection of today’s photos can be found here.
Despite never having lived within 1,000 miles of Wrigley Field, I was no less a Cub fan than any Chicagoan and, in many cases, the distance made my affection stronger. I couldn’t just hop a crosstown train to the Friendly Confines. I had to worship my Cubs from afar and see them in person only when they were entrenched deep in enemy territory. I had visited the exterior of Wrigley Field once, on a cold January day after a weekend of Cub related revelry and commiseration known as the Cubs Convention, but I had never stepped foot inside the hallowed grounds themselves.
My MLB stadium quest would have many high points, but, to me, the pure highlight was to be my first visit to Wrigley Field. My trip couldn’t be to a meaningless June game against the Marlins; it had to carry more gravity than that. Since the Cubs aren’t looking to play competitive baseball for at least a few more seasons when the talent down on the farm reaches fruition, the celebration of Wrigley’s 100th anniversary this season, and the actual celebration day of April 23 would be the perfect home stand to make my Wrigley debut.
Lauren and I found a Groupon for a lovely European-style bistro hotel that was less than a mile from Wrigley Field and the Chicago Red Line train in the Lakeview/Wrigleyville neighborhood, used frequent flyer miles donated to our cause and we were on a plane headed to the Windy City the day before the big 100th Anniversary game. The plan was to catch 3 games at Wrigley, 1 at US Cellular Field and 1 more at Miller Park in Milwaukee, as well as take the tour of Wrigley and have a few days to enjoy the city. That plan didn’t exactly happen as we expected, but there will be more on that as the reports continue.
Our flight was non-eventful, if early (leaving San Diego at approximately 6am) and after a few hours of napping and podcasts we were soon descending into Midway Airport. We grabbed our carryon bags and headed to the Red Line to the Wrigley Field stop to check in to our hotel. Again, the commute in was no trouble and we lugged our bags through Wrigleyville and arrived at the Majestic Hotel. That is really it’s name, I’m not just being hyperbolic. Our room was charmingly appointed and though it was located on the second floor, right next to the elevator, there was no issue of noise pollution during the week that we stayed there.
We lay down and rested for a short time, and then realized that we hadn’t eaten very much during the day so we set out in the general direction of Wrigley Field, several hours before game time, in search of food. A block away from the hotel was a small restaurant called Wrigley BBQ. It looked decent enough, so we walked in to the empty restaurant and placed our orders. I had a delicious pulled pork sandwich and Lauren had the brisket platter. The food was amazing and at each table was a selection of 3 different sauces to try on the various proteins. I tried all 3, with both my sandwich and Lauren’s brisket leftovers, and there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch. There was a sweet sauce, a spicy sauce and a tangy vinegar-based sauce. The vinegar-based was my favorite, but they were all excellent. We were thoroughly impressed and felt it to be a great way to kick off our Chicago culinary adventures, which are almost as high a priority to us on our vacations as the baseball is.
We continued on to the Friendly Confines, where we entered as soon as they opened the gates. We had seats in the bleachers, which I felt to be a proper introduction to Wrigley, but I was mistaken in thinking that, like Dodger Stadium, the bleachers were strictly sequestered by themselves–only learning the truth during the Wrigley Field tour much later in the week–so we spent our first game basically staying in our seats the whole game. The fact that the seating is first-come, first -served also cemented that plan. We were seated in the front row of right-center field, right next to the batter’s eye. I was hoping for a home run into the basket, but alas, that was not to happen. The Cubs were playing the DBacks, and beat them quite handily, 9-2, and Jason Hammel got the win. Quite a way to welcome me to my holiest of baseball cathedrals. Certainly the good fortune would continue for the rest of my visit, right? Well….these are the Cubs that we are talking about. However, that first win was a sweet one and singing “Go Cubs, Go,” standing in the freezing cold Chicago air of Wrigley Field in April will certainly be one of my highlights of my entire baseball career.
I don’t know if it was the fact that it was so cold, or the sparse attendance, but a majority of the bleacher creatures were on fairly good behavior, only marred by the 2 drunk idiots who kept trying to do the wave and yelling asinine things to both the DBacks, as well as the Cubs, but they were no worse than I’ve seen in any other ballpark that I have visited.
Walking in to Wrigley Field for the first time was breathtaking. No, it isn’t the most technologically advanced park that I’ve visited, or the most cloying or gimmicky. It was pure classic baseball. It was everything that I hoped that it would be. Lauren says that it’s her favorite park that she’s visited because it wasn’t so desperate for attention that it constantly feels like an assault on the senses and a reaction to the short attention spans of modern fans. They have a small video board and there are a few electronic scoreboards around the park, but the main attraction is the hand-operated scoreboard in center field and while there is some music over the PA, a majority of the sounds of the game are from the game itself, PA announcements and the Wrigley Field organ, operated by Gary Pressy. It is pure and wonderful.
We lingered around the ballpark as long as we could, which wasn’t too long; the ushers are serious about getting everyone out. I don’t know if that is regularly the case or if it was because of the early morning coming up, due to the press and preparation for the 100th Anniversary game the following day, but I was floating so high after my first visit and win that I didn’t even put up much of a fight.
I’d be lying if i said that there weren’t tears shed on this historic night in my personal history as I thought about the days and years that I dreamed of being in this very place. I was sitting in the same bleachers as Harry Caray had, and in the same ballpark that was home to so many of my heroes over the years. the third baseline where Ron Santo would kick up his heels after a Cubs win. The infield that Ryne Sandberg patrolled for so many years. The outfield fence that Ernie Banks had cleared for so many home runs. The pitching mound where Greg Maddux began, and basically ended, his Hall of Fame career. It is truly an overwhelming sensation for not only Cub fans, but baseball fans in general.
We headed back to the hotel, where I uploaded my photos to the computer and we had an early night, as we knew we would have to be up early for the following day’s festivities. We did NOT want to oversleep and miss a second.
The rest of the day’s photos can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/worldfamousandrew/sets/72157644554387092/
The Houston Astros haven’t had a whole lot of cheer about over the past few years. Three years of sub-.500 records makes it tough for even the most die-hard of fans to wave a team’s flag. The one compensation that makes a stretch like this tolerable is the notion of a first pick in the amateur player draft and the chance to rebuild the team for the future. If 2013 first overall pick and current Lancaster JetHawk, Mark Appel is any indicator, Astros fans will have a lot to cheer about in the years to come. In my brief interaction with the young phenom, I found him to be not only sincere and engaging, but as good of a person as he is a pitcher.
It takes a special kind of player to be drafted high in the first round on more than one occasion (Appel was picked eighth overall in the 2012 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but opted to finish his time at Stanford, before coming to the Astros in the number one spot of 2013.) With Appel, the future seems to be in good hands.
Mark discussed a lot about his faith and reliance on God as a player in an uncertain profession, where all of the promise and plans for the future can be snatched away at any time. Appel is willing to go wherever his path may lead and takes every day in baseball as the blessing that it is. That is not to say that he isn’t working hard every day to hone his already considerable skill set.
“I’m going to do the best that I can, every single day to maximize my potential and help the Astros be a winning organization, and that’s really where I find my joy. I don’t feel pressure, I don’t feel whatever it might be that might hinder me or cause me to think that I might have to live up to some lofty expectations that are unrealistic or whatever. My approach is to keep my head down, work hard every day and see where God takes me… I wanna go out and be myself and attack hitters the way that I attack hitters and use my pitches that I have. I’m not trying to develop a Clayton Kershaw curveball or anything like that. I mean, it’d be awesome if I could, but you’re just trying to use the talents and the abilities that God has given me and maximizing those to reach my potential is what I’m trying to do.”
One of the most unique pitches Appel throws is a modified “fosh” pitch, that he refers to as a “circle-split-change,” that he learned and then modified in high school.
“It’s kind of like a slight split-change. You have the 2-seam grip and you just hug the narrow seams of the baseball. It’s a change-up, so it’s supposed to kind of pronate and roll out of your hand, and the way I grip it, I grip it a little deeper and I actually circle it with my pointer finger and my thumb.”
Beyond the ball field, though, is a young man who values family and being around those that he loves above all else. He described his ideal off-day.
“Ideally, I’d love to have my family here; my parents and my brother. Any time I get to see them is a great day. Just getting to spend time with family and close friends. Maybe going out to a movie, grabbing a good bite to eat. Just kind of relaxing.”
For fun, rather than video games like “Call of Duty” or “TItanfall,” Appel would rather sit down with a good strategic board game.
“Not many guys around here like to play heavy strategy board games, but its something that keeps my mind fresh and keeps me thinking and keeps my mind off of baseball.”
More importantly, Appel is an Astros fan, through and through. The Astros have a tradition of bringing in big game local pitchers, Messieurs Clemens and Ryan immediately come to mind, and Appel fits that mold perfectly. In fact, he draws encouragement from the Hall of Famer, and Astros advisor, Ryan.
“He was a little bit before my time, but my Dad would tell me stories of how he watched him play in the Astrodome and I’ve seen video of him a number of times and just the way he attacked hitters, and approached the game–mentally and physically–it was impressive and something I look up to and find encouragement and motivation through what he did.”
In addition, growing up in Houston has tattooed the Astros indelibly on Mark’s heart. He remembers the good times and looks ahead, expectantly to the future. “It’s real exciting, you know. It’s a dream come true, really, being able to think about that. I remember growing up in Houston, playing with my buds in little league and pretending to be some of the Houston greats. Now knowing that I’m part of the organization it’s an amazing feeling just knowing how gracious God has been through this whole process… You know, being a fan of the Astros myself. I guess it’s a little different being on the other side of things, but I remember going to games in the Astrodome and I remember going to games at MinuteMaid and I remember watching the ’05 World Series and the National League Championship run. Astros baseball is a lot of fun.”
Looking ahead, the Astros appear that they will have a lot to cheer for in beginning in the next few seasons and the crew in Lancaster, led by Appel and 2012 top pick, Carlos Correa, are leading the charge. Appel can feel the winds of change beginning to swirl and is excited by what the future may hold.
“It’s not fun to lose, but I don’t think we’re going to be losing much longer. I think patience is a virtue, and I think that what Jeff Luhnow has been doing, has been staying true to his word, as far as his plan and as a part of that plan, I hope to be a part of that for years and years to come. I love the city of Houston, I love the Astros and I want to see the Astros win a championship, whether I’m a part of it or not, but I want to be a part of it too.”
Leaving the conversation I was struck with the maturity and grace of this young man at still just 22 years of age. While he may be slightly more polished than the average 22 year old, due to the level at which he has produced and been touted, I was impressed. The Astros have a gem gestating in Lancaster and I will not be shocked in 5 years time to see him on the mound at Minute Maid Park, as the confetti falls down, celebrating the World Champion Houston Astros.
Wednesday, April 2nd was my first foray into the 2014 baseball season and let’s just hope that the rest of the year goes significantly better than it began. Not burying the lead, the Angels got beaten. Badly. Like a bad, bad donkey. And, to paraphrase one of my favorite movies, “Clerks,” I wasn’t even supposed to be there that day.
Evidently reading a calendar isn’t one of my strengths, as I purchased tickets to the game on Wednesday when I thought I was buying them for Tuesday night, the night of the Mike Trout bobblehead. I should have realized when it was so easy. Wednesday was still a giveaway and we got our “stadium exclusive” caps, which is better than being poked in the eye with a sharp stick.
Arriving for batting practice, I began to doubt if the game would even occur when the dark storm clouds rolled in right as the Angels finished hitting. I literally saw one ball hit and no one stuck around signing autographs as the rain began to fall. The tarp covered the infield and the skies opened up. For all of 10 minutes. Just long enough to get our seats thoroughly wet and then the sun came back out as if nothing had happened.
The crowd was fairly big for a Wednesday night with a threatened downpour but, I suppose the novelty of baseball being back was still contributing, though most of the people would be gone by the 8th inning of the loss.
Sadly, it was the Angels debut of Hector Santiago and he didn’t exactly pitch poorly, the offense was just anemic at best. Mike Trout was his usual superhuman self, with 2 extra base hits, a RBI and some fine play in the field, but he was about it as far as the offense was concerned and the bullpen imploded. Again. As Yogi says, “It’s like deja vu all over again” from last season. Back-to-back home runs by Justin Smoak and Mike Zunino off Ernesto Frieri were just the icing on the cake in the 9th. James Paxton who started for the Mariners was not a name that I was very familiar with, but he pitched brilliantly and looks to be a dark horse star in a rotation that will, ideally, include Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker later in the season.
On a positive note there is a new fry stand in the concourse and we thoroughly enjoyed our garlic fries. Another plus, food wise, was that since the game was still so early in the season the hot dog buns had yet to get stale.
Sometimes it’s the small things that make all the difference, and those were our silver lining on the rain clouds of the ball game.
Until next time, keep tripping baseballs!
March is almost over and spring has sprung. At least for most of the country. Here in Southern California we have not only been free of the Snowpocalypse that gripped the rest of the country, but have been suffering through abnormally high temperatures. I know, I know. Humble brag.
The onset of spring means only one thing…regular season baseball shall soon be upon us, and as this entry posts, the DBacks and Dodgers should have already kicked off the season with their first game “down under.” Crikey!
I have spent the past several weeks trying to plan out a pretty exciting year for me personally and, hopefully, for my readers as well. I’ll be taking you all to lots of new places and getting some great behind the scenes looks at things that not every baseball fan gets to see!
That all being said, here is what 2014 looks like for us here at “Tripping Baseballs.”
Our first major trip occurs in late April and just so happens to be to Wrigley Field, my favorite ballpark in the majors and home of my beloved Chicago Cubs. Not only will this be my very first trip to the Friendly Confines, but it will coincide with the game celebrating Weeghman Park…err Wrigley Field’s 100th Anniversary. To say that I’m elated is like saying that Westboro Baptist is slightly xenophobic. In addition to a few games at Wrigley, I will be headed deep into enemy territory when I travel to Miller Park and US Cellular Field, probably the 2 most Cub-hostile parks I have visited thus far. I also plan on doing a behind the scenes tour of Wrigley and taking an absolutely obscene amount of photos.
The next bit, I am legitimately excited about as well. During the offseason I sent messages to every minor league team in the state of California, asking if they would like me to come and cover their team/ballpark/fan experience. I was fortunate enough to hear back from 5 of the teams, thus far, and have been offered press passes to all 5. It makes me feel so legitimate! The teams that I will definitely be covering are the Lake Elsinore Storm (Padres), Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (Dodgers, Bakersfield Blaze (Reds), Stockton Ports (A’s) and High Desert Mavericks (Mariners). These are all teams in the High-A California League and I look forward to getting an early look at some of the game’s future stars. In that same line of thought, I am also planning on going to see the Lancaster Jet Hawks (Astros), in order to see one of baseball’s fastest rising stars, in shortstop, Carlos Correa. If I’m lucky, I might even get to see top draft pick, Mark Appel. No word on where he’ll be pitching, but Lancaster seems to be the natural next stop for him. I also have tentative plans to see the IE 66’ers (Angels), but that is about as far as the planning for that has gone.
I will also be making at least 1, if not 2, trips to see the Fresno Grizzlies this summer. The first potential trip would be in June, as the Iowa Cubs come to town and it will be the closest to me that they travel. I have a great desire to see the Cubs future, namely, Javy Baez, in person.
The 2nd trip would be in early August and it would be to see the Grizzlies take on the Salt Lake Bees. This trip would not be to see any player in particular, but because the Grizzlies are hosting a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles night, with TMNT-themed jerseys. My 10 year old self would never forgive my 32 year old self if I missed it.
In addition, I plan to see the Cubs when they visit San Diego in late May and have a number of Angels games I plan to attend, as well. Sadly I didn’t get my mini-ticket plan this year, so there are no games set in stone, as far as that is concerned. There are also a few more tricks up my sleeve that I hope to be able to pull out in the upcoming weeks, just to keep things interesting in between my baseball adventures.
Hopefully this is exciting to you as it is to me, and you’ll join me throughout the 2014 season and beyond, as I continue tripping baseballs!
I have been spoiled with the offseason offerings of my favorite baseball team. For as long as I’ve been aware, the Cubs have held the Cubs Convention in the middle of January in the frozen tundra of Chicago, providing a jolt of baseball excitement for the longest suffering fans in sports. The convention has always sold out, but I have been able to attend three times and the reminder that spring training is right around the corner is always welcome.
Within the past few years I have heard about several other teams hosting pre-season fan get-togethers, including the Padres. Reports the past few years have been that the FanFest was a professionally run and much enjoyed event, so I made a point to keep my eyes out for any information about the 2014 event.
Fortunately it fell on a weekend that I was able to get away and, after acquiring “early entry” passes from a friend of a friend, my brother, Chris, and I were standing in line outside of Petco Park far too early on a Saturday morning.
Having never been before, I wasn’t sure how the autograph sessions worked. All I knew was that there were vouchers for the various sessions and that you needed a voucher to get the autograph. I misunderstood what I was told by a Padres employee and thought that the earliest sessions would be available to the early entry guests and tickets for the others would be staggered throughout the day.
Chris and I grabbed our vouchers for the Yonder Alonso/Robbie Erlin session and headed over to the Padres Garage Sale. The sale is where the Padres sell all sorts of things left over from the previous season(s), including jerseys, bats, caps, and banners that hung around the ballpark.
There was a sizable crowd when we got there, but it wasn’t unmanageable and we managed to peruse all of the items without any issues. While flipping through the jerseys I happened across a 1984 Padres “throwback” jersey that had been worn and signed by Anthony Rizzo and I was sold immediately. The funny thing is that I had thought just that morning that had I gone to the FanFest the year prior, I could maybe have grabbed a Rizzo jersey since he had been with the club sporadically throughout the 2011 season.
I wound up spending a little more than I had planned to acquire the jersey, but it is now one of the prize pieces of my baseball memorabilia collection, and well worth the expense in my mind.
After finally checking out, which took a very long time due to Wi-Fi issues with the credit card readers, Chris and I looked at the time and saw that we still had over an hour before we could even start queueing up for our autograph session, so we decided to enjoy a walking tour of the Padres clubhouse and facilities.
I had already seen the clubhouse on my tour of Petco nearly a year before, but it was a good way to kill time and there were various areas open that had not been accessible on our tour. Plus, it’s always fun to see the “behind the scenes” areas of the ballpark.
After the clubhouse, we popped out into the Padres dugout and relaxed for a few minutes as we decided what to do next.
There were several tents set up in the outfield grass, so we decided to see what was happening out there. Sidenote:One of the benefits to going to a fan event for a team that plays in a warm climate is the ability to walk on the field, a perk that is not offered on any ballpark tour that I have experienced, or even read about.
While on our way out to left field, we ran into the Friar and had to get a photo with him. The tents seemed to be for local radio stations and all of the lines to reach them were quite prohibitive, so I leapt at the outfield walls a few times, like I was robbing a home run, completely disregarding the fact that I have no jumping skills whatsoever, and decided to head up to the Alonso/Erlin signing.
The best part about having the voucher for the session was that the queue was basically just sitting in the nice shaded seats and waiting for the players to show up. They arrived on time and were fairly quick with the signings, even though they were both very good about talking with the fans who came up.
I had Alonso sign a ball for me, but unfortunately I wasn’t paying close enough attention and he signed in blue sharpie before I could ask him to use my own pen. I told him that I thought this could definitely be an All Star year for him and he thanked me and said that he was feeling really good this offseason.
I had decided not to get Erlin on a baseball, so I didn’t have him sign anything, which I regret in retrospect.
At this point Chris and I headed back to where the vouchers had been distributed to try and get some for a later autograph session. As it happened, the vouchers were not staggered throughout the day, they were given out as soon as the previous session had run out of vouchers. So, rather than waiting until 10:00am to give our the 11:30am vouchers, they were given as soon as the 11:00am session had “booked out.”
The system makes sense and I don’t have a real issue with it, though I wish that there had been better communication with the fans and more of a premium given to the early entry (read:season ticket holders) attendees. For example, two of the more desired autograph sessions were Jedd Gyorko and Andrew Cashner, both of whom only had one autograph session in the late afternoon. I would have hoped that the Padres would have had them available early, as a premium for the early entry folks.
While bummed, Chris and I weren’t devastated, as we were trying to make it to USD for the USD alumni game featuring Cubs top prospect, Kris Bryant, and after getting out and throwing a few pitches in the Padres bullpen, that was just where we went.
After finally finding parking on campus, we made our way to Fowler Park, the brand new USD baseball facility. To say that it is a gem is to sell it short. This tiny, college ballpark is nicer than some major league spring training facilities that I have visited. (Maryvale, I’m looking at you!) and if I were a student, I think I would be wiling away far too many hours not studying, sitting in the grandstand.
When we arrived, Bryant had already been officially presented with his Golden Spikes Award, for the best college baseball player, and the game was in the bottom of the first inning. After sitting down I noticed a crowd of people in the stands by the third base bullpen not watching the game.
I made my way over, and sure enough, there was Kris Bryant, signing autographs for anybody who wanted one. I had him sign a ball for me and inscribe it “Go Cubs!” which he did with no hesitation. Bryant didn’t play in the game, presumably as part of the contract he signed with the Cubs, but there were a lot of other alumni who did, including Orioles starter, Brian Matusz.
One of the highlights for me was hearing the guys on both the current USD team and the alumni giving each other a hard time and I found myself cracking up after several exchanges.
As the game drew to a close, we made out way to the first base dugout where the alumni team was situated. In addition to Bryant, another Cubs prospect, Corey Black was there throwing a bullpen session and I was hoping to have him sign a ball for me as well, a goal which sadly ended in failure.
After the game I stood by the dugout with several other fans, hoping to grab a few more autographs. As Matusz walked into the dugout, two kids next to me asked him if he’d sign. He said, sure, with a big smile. The kids then asked him for a ball since they “didn’t have anything for [him].” Matusz then said he didn’t have one and disappeared into the dugout, ruining it for the rest of us.
While standing there, I heard rumblings about going to wait for Bryant by the clubhouse door after the game and thanks to my patient brothers, we were able to meet him again and get a photo. My brother, Jonathan, also had him sign a ball with a “Team USA” inscription.
All in all it was a fantastic weekend to welcome back baseball and a great boon to my Cub collection, despite both events being held in San Diego. Not long now and spring training games will start and then the regular season will be upon us. I can’t wait, as I have big plans this year!
Thanks for reading, and keep tripping baseballs!